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21 September 2013

All Hail the Grand Poobah!

I know I said that I wouldn't do any ukulele posts for a while, but I lied! I need a break from holiday photos and I'm desperate to show you a little project I've been working on. This post is about a ukulele I designed recently that I'm calling the "Grand Poobah".

Here's the "Grand Poobah" concept art in all its glory. My inspiration is obviously the surfboard. I saw potential to get some beautiful curves and angles into the body shape in what I hope is an elegant little design.

When I mocked this up, I didn't really have any intention of making it; I mean, I have too many other ideas already. But a couple of the challenges I'll mention soon got me wondering if I could pull it off. That's all I needed to start the project. Will it be enough for me to finish it?

You can see that the mockup is piezo-electric. My current thoughts are that I won't me adding a pickup. I think I'm going to try something a whole lot more adventurous and foolhardy!

All of my projects so far have started with a pattern. The challenge in creating a pattern is to turn a mock-up sketch into a full size template. In order to do this, I first need to decide upon a scale length. My Kingcaster is a Tenor. My Sharkfin is a Soprano. The Grand Poobah will be a concert-sized uke. It will follow similar neck dimensions to a Martin acoustic concert uke. Or at least... this is where I'm starting.

Above is a first draft sketch I did by eye on the back of a roll of wallpaper backing paper. Below is the second and final draft which I refined after realising the errors in the first draft. There are two things to call out: Firstly, can you see the sound hole? Yep - this is going to be an acoustic! More on this later. Secondly, can you see the head? I'm going to recycle some old guitar machine heads, which due to their size means I had to grow the head slightly. It changes the shape of the over-all uke, but I'm hoping that it won't really make too much difference to the over-all aesthetics.

Here's a close-up of  the refined head with a rough idea of where the machine heads will need to be fitted to pull this off. It looks like I'll potentially need to put in some screws to line up the strings with the nut. I'll worry about that later.

I have some old wood that used to be the legs on a garden table. I bought the table when I lived in New Zealand. It's in a right state, but I've held on to it in the hope that I could in some way recycle it. It's dented and out of shape. Wouldn't it be cool if I could give it new life!

Here you can see my dog checking the wood out. Over the years the wood has been oiled, stained, varnished, painted and shipped halfway around the world in a giant container. It's also the wrong size. Despite all of this, I'm going to try and use it for this project.

How on earth am I going to do this? Read on...

Before we leave this picture it's worth pointing out that it is very unlikely that the finished wood is ever going to look that pretty. I know this. At best, I'm expecting a battered look. I'm hoping that joining the wood is going to accentuate the rustic feel. My fear is that it will all fall apart :-S

In case you're wondering what the finished wood might look like, check out my Sharkfin build below. The fretboard and bridge were both made out of the same stuff.

This was a last-minute braindump I knocked up as I tried to explain to my mentor +Daniel Hulbert what I'm hoping to do. It all seems a bit crazy to me.

What it tries to show you are my plans to join the wood together into blocks. It also talks about hollowing out the body with a router. This is an unconventional technique that I've talked about before and which continues to intrigue me. Will it work? There's only one way to find out ;-)

Here's a little more detail on the hollowing technique. See the picture below (I might have got this picture from Hearts and Hands). Someone has hollowed out the body of a violin (with a forstner bit in this instance). Once finished, a front is placed on top and Bob's your uncle!

In my case, I'm thinking that I will cut a slice off the body to be used as the front and then I'll route the inside cavity with the intention of joining the two back together at the end. Is that as clear as mud?

And if it doesn't work, I'll have learnt something in the process ;-)

As you can see here, I've actually started working on the wood. The first thing that I did was to chop each piece in two. Then I took to them with a plane. I did this all by hand, the old-fashioned way. I tried to get it back to the bare wood without damaging it too much. It was a great workout.

I'm reminded of some work I saw many years ago by a New Zealand artist called Keith Godwin. For a while there he was producing wood-turned bottles from old Totara fence posts. The bottle above is an example (photo courtesy of See that it still has some rusty barbed wire attached. Perhaps my finished Grand Poobah will have all sorts of dinks and scratches like these?

Once I'd planed, I then got a flat board and lay a 60 grit piece of sanding paper on it, grit-side up. I worked one side of each plank over the sandpaper until I had a clean edge. My hope was that I'd be able to glue two bits together to make a thicker block.

Below you can see me gluing one plank before I join with the other. I'm just using bog standard wood glue here. I really hope it holds!

Here are some shots of the wood in clamps. I glued and left each for 24 hours. As expected, I've ended up with four larger blocks 

What happened to my little helper? Here she is... eating a bit that fell off my workbench. That's the last of the puppy-teeth gone!

I show you this blurred picture as a reminder of the perils of laziness. I clamped my first glued block without any "padding". Yep, the clamps marked the wood! To be honest, in this instance, it's really neither here nor there, the wood is in such a poor condition that I'm going to have to work it anyway. Even so... I mustn't be lazy! Thanks to +Graham Hendrick for keeping me honest! 

Here I am figuring out whether I've got enough wood for the build. It's going to be tight! 3 of the planks are going to need to be planed down their length and joined for the body. I'm really not looking forward to attempting that! Ha ha. What could possibly go wrong?

I've laid the neck template on one plank, but I'm expecting to have to join a wider block for the head. I can't see it fitting otherwise.

My original thoughts were along the lines of having the grain (and wood joins) for the body running at an angle to the neck. That's going to create me all sorts of problems and I'm suspicious that I don't actually have enough good wood to pull this off. Here's perhaps a better alternative. I'll need to decide before I move on too much further because it will dictate where and how I join the wood. Mañana.

Have you also noticed that I haven't mentioned the depth of the wood at all? Ha ha. I'm really not sure that it's thick enough. I want a thin body uke, but will it be too thin? :-S

There you have it... a new project started! I guess I'll have to finish it now :-)

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